Who domesticated whom?

By: Roger Coryell
Dog in bed with people

We often hear about how humans domesticated dogs, right? But what if we told you that some researchers have found evidence suggesting that it might have been dogs who domesticated us? That’s right! Let’s explore this fascinating idea and see if our four-legged friends have played a bigger role in our history than we thought.

The coevolution hypothesis

This intriguing idea is known as the coevolution hypothesis, which suggests that dogs and humans have evolved together, with each species influencing the other’s development (Zeder, 2012). Instead of humans intentionally breeding wolves to create dogs, both species adapted to each other’s presence in a mutually beneficial relationship. In this scenario, dogs provided humans with protection, hunting assistance, and companionship, while humans offered dogs a steady food supply and protection from predators (Shipman, 2015). This relationship allowed both species to evolve and prosper together, with dogs playing an active role in shaping human evolution.

Evidence for the coevolution hypothesis

So, what’s the scoop on this hypothesis? Well, there’s some solid evidence to support it. For starters, archaeological findings show that dog remains have been found in early human settlements dating back as far as 33,000 years ago (Druzhkova et al., 2013). This suggests that dogs and humans have been BFFs for quite some time, potentially influencing each other’s development.

Additionally, studies have found that the domestication of dogs likely happened multiple times in different locations (Frantz et al., 2016). This challenges the idea that humans were the ones calling the shots, domesticating dogs in a single, directed process, and supports the idea that dogs and humans engaged in a more fluid, mutual relationship.

Genetic studies also show that dogs have unique adaptations for digesting starches, which likely developed as a result of their close association with humans (Axelsson et al., 2013). This suggests that dogs adapted to the human diet, reinforcing the idea of a mutualistic relationship between the two species.

So, what does all this mean? Firstly, it highlights the significance of dogs in human history and evolution, emphasizing the importance of the bond between these two species. It also challenges the idea that humans have always been the dominant force in shaping the world around them, highlighting the importance of interspecies relationships in the development of both humans and dogs.

The coevolution hypothesis has implications for the ethics of dog breeding and ownership. If dogs have played an active role in the domestication of humans, then it’s essential to recognize their agency and autonomy within this relationship. This perspective could encourage a more compassionate and egalitarian approach to dog ownership and care, emphasizing the importance of respecting the needs and desires of our canine companions.

The idea that dogs may have played a significant role in the domestication of humans challenges the traditional view of human-dog relationships and offers a fresh perspective on the long-standing bond between these two species. Evidence from archaeological, genetic, and comparative studies supports the coevolution hypothesis, suggesting that the relationship between dogs and humans is more nuanced and mutualistic than previously believed.

This shift in understanding has important implications for how we perceive the role of dogs in human history, as well as the ethical considerations surrounding dog ownership and breeding. Recognizing the agency and autonomy of dogs in this relationship may lead to a more compassionate and egalitarian approach to the care and treatment of our canine companions. So next time you look at your furry friend, remember – they might just have had a bigger paw in our history than we thought!

Last updated on April 16, 2023.


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